Something For The Weekend (264)
What a very pleasant Villa week it has been, what with the three-nil annihilation of Hull City and then a chance to see Villa play in Europe on the telly. Okay, so it wasn't the whole team but at least we got to see Olof Mellberg strut his stuff for Olympiacos against the Arsenal kids and that was kind of fun.
All Mellberg fans would have been glad to see him help keep a clean-sheet and would have taken note, that his beard is every bit as lush and silky as it ever was and that he is still the commanding player they loved but who maybe has lost half a yard of pace.
He is still very much the handsome devil of old, too, as he demonstrated when shouting some sadistic promises of pain in the direction of Jack Wiltshire after some little competitive kafuffle. The big shock was to see Villa's legendary big Swede in white boots, which provoked all my prejudices about big fellahs who wear white shoes. Its just a peccadillo of mine, which probably arises from the thought, that if they weren't right for George Curtis, they ain't right for any other defender, either.
As the record shows, the Arsenal kids passed the ball with the same sublime slickness as the seniors but had similar problems taking their chances, as Carlos Vela blazed high or wide and was left to dance on his hat. A single goal by the Greek's Brazilian left-back Leonardo, who finished like a striker, put Villa (Mellberg) and Blackburn (Matt Derbyshire) into the last sixteen of the Champions League. Its been quite a year for Derbyshire, who scored an equaliser in injury-time for Olympiacos, in the Greek Cup Final, who went on to beat local rivals AEK Athens 15-14 on penalties. Now that is what you call a nail-biter.
Cue, a load of fat Greeks singing, 'We'll be running round Piraeus with the cup', or something like that.
Obviously Mellberg missed out on that honour but you have to admit that, a bit of Champions League grandeur, is quite a bonus for our much admired Swede, so late in his career.
But enough of these Mellbergian diversions. Most Villa fans spent the week on quite a high, after a combination of Villa's new midfield formation and a dispirited Hull side, added to the recent impression that Villa have reached the status of being a half-decent side.
There was also substantial relief, that as Birmingham had won *again*, with Ridgewell looking good at left-back and Lee Bowyer, now winning popularity contests: a loss or a draw would have really made for a miserable week.
Instead, people were left to speculate whether Milner is better than Barry, whether if Carew gets dropped and looks a bit sulky sitting in a draught on the bench, he is automatically on his bike, and rather facetiously, whether Sidwell's assist for Milner's superb finish, represented his finest performance in a Villa shirt thus far?
Saturday was such a great afternoon out for the Villa fans as they even got the chance to show what thorough-going sporting chaps and chapesses they are by offering the charismatic Bullard a standing-ovation as he limped from the field in tears. Even more fortunate was the fact that the injury to one of football's rare and well-loved characters, was mostly self-inflicted as he seemed to fall from a similar height, from which Villa's famous parachutist disastrously crash-landed. I would hate a Villa player to cop for that sort of blame.
We all wish him well, I am sure and a merry Christmas. Here's your card:
This weekend Villa must travel to Old Trafford and have their credibility closely examined by the Champions. United are supposed to have injury problems but tell that to Volkswagen Town who they thrashed in Europe in midweek. Most observers declared that there was a Golf in class and too many Passats went astray from the home side.
So despite them being supposedly under-strength, it promises to be a severe test for Villa, and I am not even sure if Villa are actually allowed to beat United and like the rule about carrying moose on the fender of your car in New York State, I think there is a law.
Even with Ferguson banished to the stands for his transgressions, you get the impression that the referees take the team-talks. Like visiting boxers, when any team goes to Old Trafford, they know that they will have to knock them out because they are never going to get a decision. When they don't out-play you, they out-fight you and when you out-fight them, the referee gives them all the decisions. Its 27 games since Villa won at Old Trafford and it would require an Herculean performance to remedy that sickening record.
But it has to end some time and there will be plenty of Villa fans who will make the trek, in the hope that they can make the boast to their grandchildren, that they were there when the bad run ended and Villa turned the corner, from half-decent to contenders, at last.
One thing is for sure, should Villa win, I will be booking into my local karaoke bar and doing Stairway To Heaven in the style of Elvis.
It will not be pretty.
It goes like this...
Keep the faith!